Happy Holler is a district just 1.2 miles North of the center of downtown of Knoxville that older generations are well familiar with that is gaining renewed interest from up and coming generations. In April 2014 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is noteworthy for the business area’s degree of intactness of structures and building patterns.
This area gained its name by reputation. The Depression-era moniker “Happy Holler” reflects the area’s early popularity as the place to go to buy alcohol from establishments along the back alleys during prohibition. The area was notorious for the bootleggers operating from back rooms. Holler, on the other hand, is derived from Appalachian dialect describing a hollow, in this case the district’s lower-lying topography.
The historic district is comprised of 14 buildings fronting North Central Street and a few lining the south-side of East and West Anderson Avenues. The majority of buildings are one-story commercial buildings built during the first three decades of the 20th Century and form the core of a community shopping and entertainment district. All the historic buildings are characteristically minimal with ornamentation and were built with no setbacks along the sidewalks. The lack of setbacks gives it the classic American “Main Street” appearance with sidewalk-oriented entrances and display windows.
Happy Holler’s initial heyday was from 1909 when the oldest building was constructed up to 1961. The area stopped thriving after the close of nearby Brookside Mills in 1965 and the end of prohibition. Those early era businesses included several markets: A.J. Campbell’s Grocery Store, White Stores Grocery, Week’s Drug Store, Henry Brothers Grocery and S&T Quality Corner. Also making Happy Holler home were a boxing training center, a billiard hall, milk depot, livery stable, the Eating House restaurant, North Central Radio, Southern Household Supply Company, Central Furniture and Appliances, Brantley Brothers auto garage, and the Picto movie theater.
The hand-painted White Stores sign, uncovered and preserved during renovation, can still be seen on the facade of the current home to the Relix Theater, a special occasion and concert venue. The commercial district is currently attracting people with revitalized entertainment and shopping. You can get great food at Central Flats and Taps, participate in karaoke at Toots Little Honky Tonk, Time Warp Tea Room is a vintage biker club; Raven Records, Retrospect Vintage Store, Friends Antiques & Collectables and the Taoist Tai Chi Society also call Happy Holler home and lend an eclectic flair to the district.
Nearby, but not technically in the historic district, residents have the Original Freezo established in 1942. Mid Mod Collective, Three Rivers‘ food market and co-op and the Knoxville Children’s Theater.
With businesses investing in the district, metropolitan minded people are finding their way to the charming neighborhood homes. It’s still easy to get downtown, but it offers its own unique quirkiness and rich history.